As the economy begins to grow again, businesses will start to add workers to their payrolls. This is good news for those workers and for the economy, but statistics show that the first year on a new job is also very risky to the workers’ health. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 41% of work-related injuries occur each year to workers who have been on the job for less than a year. On top of that, younger employees get hurt on the job more often than do their older colleagues. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study showed that workers under age 24 are twice as likely as older workers to have non-fatal workplace accidents. In addition to the pain and suffering these workers endure and the disruption to their lives, employers face increased Workers Compensation costs. Therefore, preventing new employees’ accidents should be a top priority for all employers. There are several things employers can do toward that end.
- Review and update job descriptions. If management has not compared job descriptions to the actual work being done recently, this is the time to do it. Work tasks are changing constantly as new tasks take priority, old tasks become less important, and technology changes how workers perform current tasks. Without a clear understanding of how employees are performing their work (or, more importantly, how they should be performing it,) managers will be unable to train new employees effectively or to determine why they are getting hurt.
- Conduct training programs that require the employee’s active participation. When people learn how to drive, they do not just watch a video or listen to a lecture about which pedal is the brake and which is the accelerator. They get behind the wheel and actually drive. Safe job performance works the same way. An employee will retain the knowledge far better if he watches a demonstration and then performs the tasks in a safe, controlled environment. He should practice the steps until he can perform them safely. Hands-on training will engage the employee’s mind and take advantage of his natural desire to perform his job well and in a way that will protect him. This will result in better work performance and a lower likelihood of injuries.
- Closely supervise new employees. Interactive training alone will not guarantee safe work performance. Supervisors should pay close attention to new workers during their first days and weeks on the job to make sure that they are using the knowledge gained during training and not falling into bad habits. Pointing out unsafe practices and correcting them quickly should instill good habits and make working safely an automatic part of the employee’s routine. Ideally, the employee should need less supervision the longer he is on the job without injuring himself or others.
Every day in business, competition becomes more fierce; only high-value, low-cost providers of products and services can thrive. A company gains an edge by attracting and retaining excellent workers and by holding down variable costs. Preventing workplace injuries does both. By making the effort to keep all employees, especially new employees, safe, the company will develop a reputation as a good place to work and reduce workers’ compensation costs, adding dollars to the bottom line. Businesses should view workplace injuries as a preventable expense that they do not have to accept.